HOUSING COULD MAKE MALIBU’S CIVIC CENTER CIVIL

It was no surprise reading a L.A. Times business story recently that major commercial real estate developers are increasingly considering adding housing to their mix of mall brews.

That malls and mini malls, and shopping centers are struggling is not news for developers, real estate investors, and city planners-in-the know, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU andf select websites everywhere.

More and more shoppers are frankly shunning the malls in favor of on-line shopping, where in the comfort of their homes they can view a wealth of products, weigh bargains, and, if are alert to specials, enjoy free home delivery, and easy returns.

As a result, some 25 per cent of America’s malls are expected to close in the next five years., while others struggle to become more appealing. This includes recycling malls in the mode of walkable villages, featuring speciality shops, boutiques, and a range of intimate eateries and entertainment

Now the latest ingredient is housing; and not coincidentally needed more than ever, as California suffers under an acute housing shortage, in particular affordable housing.

Challenging certainly will be the recycling of previously commercial developments, especially the malls anchored by major department stores. It may in some cases prompt bulldozing; after all it is the land and location that is valuable.

Challenging also will be the obvious need for some major rezoning, which depending on the proposed housing, nearby neighborhoods may not like.

This brings me back to my conflicted Malibu, whose efforts at planning at best have been behind the times, and in some cases unfortunately behind the counter.

Malibu I feel is ripe for this recycling in its so-called civic center, which actually is less a center than a scattered collection of suburban mini malls. And no doubt the pending approved shopping centers there catering to tourists will only make it worse, and I suspect the developers also may be having second thoughts, given the shifting shopping trends.

And so once again, as I have strongly suggested in the past, the city consider proposing work force and senior housing in the civic center, specifically for our teachers and first responders. Lets even include a few units for city employees.

In a phrase, housing would make the civic center civil. Indeed, if designed well, it could create the livable, viable sea coast village for which the city has always yearned.

Besides, it actually could reduce traffic on the PCH. Residential uses generate half of what commercial does, especially if they work locally.

It also would more than satisfy Malibu’s affordable housing element required by the State. Certainly it would please the Coastal Commission, and make it look more kindly on the city.

But most of all it is the right thing to do. We owe it to those who serve us.

 

A LAMENT FOR MY NEW YORK; READ AND WEEP

Sam Hall Kaplan commiserates with Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.”
lareviewofbooks.org
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BACK AND WALLOWING IN MALIBU

This week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, some musings after returning from family and friends on the always engaging east coast

There, among others things, I saw my youngest, a proud Malibu High alum, as is his brother, enter into a welcoming post graduate Harvard. Go sharks!

Then it was on to New York, to attend the dedication of a new international think tank, a partnership of my alma mater Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute, heralded as the birthplace of what’s next.

This made me feel like the problem solver I once posed as, challenged by a promising intellectual future, albeit now set against the grain of a dysfunctional America floundering under a deranged president. Sad and scary.

Then it was back to mellow Malibu, with the persevering wife, the comforting views and sounds of the ocean, my faithful furry and feathered pets, a demanding landscape, and a certain solitude not found elsewhere.

So, at least this week there will be no philosophizing about, or defining, what constitutes “neighborhood character, “ as some followers had requested, no crafting a magical formula our planning challenged Malibu can apply in reviewing the parade projects coming through its front, and back doors.

After several decades of serving on various committees and commissions, writing letters and articles, in effect volunteering what beyond my Malibu would have been some remunerative consultant assignments, I have to observe that our self aggrandizing city leaders don’t really like listening to anyone with whom they or their friends and advisors might disagree.

There have been exceptions, of course, and they should be congratulated for their efforts. Yes, Malibu is a city of misanthropes, and quite frankly being one myself I tend to embrace the collective eccentricities.

It makes thinking about eventually moving away difficult, if not impossible, despite at times being tempted. But it would be daunting to pay the anticipated capital gains, as well cleaning out the study and the garage, and giving away thousands of books accumulated in a lifetime of reviewing, And what about my exotic plants? Who will nurture them?

More difficult would be leaving friends, relocating pets and saying goodbye to our singular refuge on Point Dume, which my wife had lovingly refurbished, raised several children hosted countless Thanksgivings, and where I have lived longer than anywhere else in my life. And where would we move to?

How does one weigh these considerations in defining neighborhood character? Think about it, perhaps best when walking to the Point Nature Preserve and the beach beyond.

As for Malibu, the Planning Commission already has boldly approved the concept as integral to the city’s vision statement. Next up is a review by the conflicted City Council, which, as its wont, may decline and just request our costly city attorney and ever-avaricious consultants to consider it.

 

 

 

LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.

Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.

It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,

Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.

Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family

From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.

But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?

And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.

As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.

I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.

But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.

But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.

As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.

ANNUAL TRANCAS CANYON DOG PARK ROMP

 

One of the more appealing things about my Malibu beyond its magnificent weather and coast, is the distinct outlander traditions of its natives, especially among the persevering pet owners.,

Indeed, many people moved here not only because of their love for nature, but also for their animals. And to be sure, we’re talking all type of animals: cats, dogs, chickens, peacocks, pigs, turtles, horses, lamas, goats, birds of every feather, and whatever else may be in the homes of our neighbors.

I’m not telling, for it might attract a local Homeland Security type in our sadly increasingly monitored world, to come knocking, someone having reported hearing screaming, when it really was just a voluble Green Amazon parrot, such as our Zuma, calling for dinner.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, there are actually several happenings in Malibu that can be considered communal. These include the chili cook off, the Pt. Dume July 4th Day parade, and the Concert on the Bluffs, which, by the way, is this Sunday..

Then there are the more serendipitous happenings., such as when a high surf attracrs swarms of locals, running down our block at sunrise to sunset to the beckoning ocean below.

Or, a gathering of a gaggle of residents at City Hall to protest staff and council bending over for a developer, or skirting administrative norms to accommodate whomever.

And among the lesser known gatherings, there is the annual convergence of canines at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park to honor the birthday of a fondly remembered four legged friend, named Bodhi.

Held recently, it is an exception to the park’s canon not to bring food within its double gates, in this instance a tail wagging variety of treats served out of a shredded pinnate

Whether any of the scrounging dogs remembered Bodhi or not, they certainly celebrated the occasion, groveling for the treats on the raw decomposed granite park floor while their equally mixed breed of owners looked on.

There was enough for all, so food fights were avoided, especially among the usually more aggressive breeds. The owner’s know who they are, but there will be no pointing fingers or chiding here of petulant pets.

That is because frankly one of them is my barking Corgi known fittingly as Bobby the Bad. He is annoyingly willful, but he is also faithful and, smart and, of course, a rescue and mine. His sidekick who he would no doubt kick if his legs were only longer is my other dog, CoCo, a sweet Shih Tzu.

She loves her treats, but at this party she hung back from the pack, especially from the determined “A” types . Even the more docile dogs got into the fray, including the lovingly groomed Golden Lab Zoe, and the regal Lady, a great, Great Dane. Giving them respectful room were the pack’s more dominant personalities, notably the ravenous Rocky, and the tireless Tanner.

But my alliterating report ends here, for in keeping with a commandment among the regularly attending owners, my friends, what happens in the dog park, stays in the dog park.

 

A BERKSHIRE RAMBLE

It’s back on air on public radio KBU 97.5 and in print after several weeks on the east coast that included returning to my cultural roots in western Massachusetts.

There, I am happily to report the Berkshire Mountain is still joyfully flourishing, as a wellspring of dance, music and the visual and performing arts, in an accessible historic cluster.

For us that meant locating in the pleasant village of Lenox, and making daily forays to the surrounding attractions.

First and foremost was nearby Tanglewood. The Koussevitsky Music Shed was inviting as ever, though to be sure I no longer sat on the lawn for concerts, but in a chair under cover and closer. And the summer resident Boston Symphony Orchestra was as crisp and refreshing as expected, in a program of Mozart’s youthful violin concerto number 3.

The soloist was Daniel Lozakovich, a 15-year-old European phenom, making his American debut. He performed faultlessly, and was cheered enthusiastically, especially by his mother, who sat near us.

He joined her after intermission for the program’s second feature, Mahler’s fourth symphony, and arguably his most genial. This performance also had a family touch, the orchestra being conducted by Andris Nelsons, and the last movement’s vocal centerpiece, delivered by his wife, Kristime Opolais.

In the evening, it was the Ozawa Hall, and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the American Songbook, batted out enthusiastically by Tanglewood’s vocal troupe accompanied by members of the Boston Pops. I just loved Stephanie Blythe, who echoed Ella Fitzgerald.

The next day Tanglewood’s own orchestra performed, with the addition of world renown trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, in a program that included some several modern scores. Ever engaging was Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, less so Mark-Anthony’s Turnage’s From the Wreckage.

To be sure, the humid weather and thunderstorms were not as climate perfect as Southern California’s, but the festivals and museums forays were sublime, notably also Jacob’s Pillow for dance and a forever expanding and engaging Massachusetts Museum of Art in North Adams.

My Berkshire ramble prompted the thought of Los Angeles, and how the region’s emerging and engaging cultural gazpacho might be better organized and orchestrated to serve Southern California’s expanding and diverse population, fractured and institutionalized as it is.

Ah, if some of those selected self aggrandizing arts efforts were only less insular and more attuned to audiences and artists, how refreshing and energizing our cultural scene could be; if only our vain patrons and pandering politicians were less ego involved, indeed, if only pigs could fly.

 

 

MALIBU PAYS SACRAMENTO CONSULTANT HOW MUCH? AND FOR WHAT??

For the last 13 years the city of Malibu has dutifully paid the firm of California Strategies nearly $2 million, without any apparent written accountability.

And as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBUU and select websites, , this is contrary to commonly accepted consultant practices, especially in the public sector.

With the Sacramento-based firm’s contract with the city of Malibu soon up for extension, perhaps it is time to halt the reflex action of rubber-stamping that has been the practice of past councils, and openly review the agreement. Time seems ripe for some City Hall transparency.

In answer to a pointed question, Malibu City Manager city Reva Feldman stated the firm has provided verbal “updates and political context,” to her several times a week, though she noted “we do not keep written logs of those calls or of meetings in Sacramento.

The firm principal Ted Harris added California Strategies does not prepare or submit written reports,” nor does it have a written list of the City’s goals, objectives, and priorities in our files.”

That was in response to a city request, prompted by a Freedom of Information inquiry I submitted with the assistance of KBUU and several concerned citizens.

In variance to the statement, Harris signature is on the firm’s recent contract with Malibu in which goals, objectives and priorities of the city are prominently listed. The executed contract further states “all files of the Consultant pertaining to the City shall be and remain the property of the City,” and “the consultant will control the physical location of such files.”

In addition, a scan of reports obtained in the FOI request indicated tens of thousands of dollars have been expended by councilpersons Lou La Monte, Laura Rosenthal and Skylar Peak, and Feldman, on numerous trips to mostly Sacramento, and also to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Not found was any reference to California Strategies.

While their expenses were documented, no notation could be further found indicating what particular venue was visited, what was discussed, and how it might affect Malibu. There have been brief oral remarks at Council meetings, of events attended but no specifics recorded.

ln the public and private sectors, when dealing with consultants, there is among professionals a commonly accepted hypothesis of “a reasonable expectation of service.” .

Perhaps this would be a good time for City Hall to adopt that standard, starting with a review of its agreement with California Strategies.

 

 

TRAFFIC WAGS THE CULTURAL DOG IN L.A.

When it comes to attending cultural events in L.A. , and wanting to avoid the increasingly taxing trip downtown, particularly attractive to me is the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing arts in Beverly Hills.

And happily for dance aficionados, upcoming at the Wallis next weekend, May 5, 6 and 7, are three special dance performances by the always engaging, and challenging, Paul Taylor Company.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBUU and select websites, I may not be able to do anything about the traffic, no waze short cuts to the center on Santa Monica Blvd. But I can suggest scoring tickets early, for the performances promise to be sell-outs, as they are wherever the company appears.

The program for the Wallis features 3 distinctive pieces,: SYZYGY, which is described as a nearly straight line configuration of three or more celestial bodies in a gravitational system; THE WORD, inspired by the biblical line, “For our God is consuming fire -,” and the classic, ESPLANADE, danced to the music of J.S, Bach.

 At 84 years old, Paul Taylor is a celebrated icon of dance, his company having performed for more than 60 years. and as observed by Wallis artistic director, Paul Crewes, “continues to this day to shape modern dance.”

This follows the recent performances by the equally iconic Alvin Ailey dance company , downtown. The program was stunning, but the stop-and-go drive getting there was awful.

True, the driving to the Wallis also calls for patience, coming as we do from Malibu and Pt. Dume. There is always the unpredictable drive on the PCH and having to weave on local streets to Beverly Hills.

But for me that is so much better than going to the music center downtown, whether by the agonizing slow expo line or the forever frustrating freeways.

You want to be culturally au courant. I was nurtured in my native New York on art, music, dance and the theatre, and have been increasingly pleased, at times dazzled, by the array of artistic attractions in L.A.

But getting to them has also been increasingly difficult. And forget going to the ridiculous pricey Dodger Stadium with the family, even if you sneak in snacks and drinks.

Yes, I have to declare that traffic in L.A. has become the tail that wags the arts and entertainment dog.

 

CITY AND STATE RESISTING AN UNPRESIDENTIAL TRUMP

Yes, the weather in Malibu has been oddly hot and cold, and foggy and sunny.

And in many ways the weather has been matched by the city’s politics, the so called reform slate swept into office in the last election having been fogged over by a hot and cold Skylar Peak.

The political fog, I feel, also enveloped the City Council recently in its vote of 3 to 2 to declare Malibu a sanctuary city, as I commented on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and, select websites.

The vote prohibits the city assisting in any way the federal government in enforcing immigration laws, which in fact the city does not do now nor does the local police and sheriff.

All agreed that the vote was purely symbolic, a thumb at the nose for an unpresidential Trump; outside our city purview, said Mullen; courageous said Rosenthal. And so went the debate, on and on, as the council tends to do before a dwindling audience. Perhaps it’s time the 3 minute rule limiting public speakers be extended to those sitting on the dais. You think city attorney Christi Hogin was not being paid enough that she also might be getting a bonus by the word.

The term loquacious or long-winded might be used to describe councilperson Rosenthal. She also might be more cautious in her comments, revealing as she did in the debate that a number of children in Malibu schools and their families were illegal immigrants and vulnerable. A dramatic utterance that I hope was not picked up by the malicious feds.

What prompted my questioning the christening of Malibu as a sanctuary city is that I feel, however arbitrary and vain glorious the labeling, such an effort should have been at least accompanied by the allocation of needed support services, such as legal representation and shelter. That is what ensnared illegal immigrants will need, not just a friendly wave from a liberal in a passing limousine, however sincere.

Not incidentally, a bill is advancing in the state Senate that would make the entire state of California a sanctuary, banning all local police and sheriffs from arresting or detaining people for federal immigration status violation, unless there is a different crime or a warrant from a judge.

Also from Sacramento, comes the news of a legislative package labeled Preserve California, which has the noble intent to insulate the state from the dangerous rollbacks in federal environmental and public health regulations. Now that has the promise of needed substance beyond niceties.

In a press release from the Democratic wheelhouse in the state capitol, the thrust of the package is to establish “strong and legally enforceable baseline protections for the environment, public health, worker safety, and other areas of federal regulatory law that could be dramatically and recklessly weakened by the Trump Administration.” It continues:

“Measures would also protect federal lands within the State of California from sale to private developers for the purpose of resource extraction; ensure federal employees are not penalized under California law for whistle blowing; and shield public information and data resources from federal censorship or destruction.”

“The Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are racing to weaken decades-old environmental and public health protections,” stated California Senate Leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles. But he added the package makes existing federal laws – like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts – enforceable under California law, “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.”

“This is pretty straightforward – just common sense measures to preserve minimum safeguards for clean air and water,” explained Malibu’s own, fresh faced Senator Henry Stern  “We still have a ways to go to clean up our environment, but at the very least we should not be backsliding.” Way to go Henry. Let’s have more than words.

 

A STOPOVER IN CULTURAL ZURICH

It is back to Malibu after nearly a month abroad, mostly at sea in the Indian ocean and on safari in South Africa.
 
It was great, thank you, though arts and entertainment venues were limited, and it is good to be at large again in southern California seeking out the diversity of its rich cultural scene, and so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.
 
To be sure, our adventure did have its cultural experiences, in particular in a stopover in Zurich i had once known and enjoyed briefly 44 years ago. if anything, the city. like the Swiss, is enduring and engaging.
 
I stretched the stopover from LAX to Capetown to a weekend so as to be able to catch a controversial opera and an outstanding ballet in the opulent Zurich opera house. to see anything in the 1100 seat neo classical building is a rare treat .
 
The opera was the political production Lady Macbeth von Mzensk, written in 1934 by the edgy Dimitri Shostakovich, and reportedly almost sent him to Siberia by an underwhelmed Stalin.
 
Despite despising the Russian despot — he treated my family and millions of others cruelly – in this singular instance i have to admit his criticism was on target. the opera was a musical muddle. A bad. the translation from Russian to English did not help.
 
The disappointment was allayed the next night attending the ballet Anna Karenina. The production was marvelous, the sets and costumes dazzling, the dancing to the music of Rachmanioff by the resident ballet company breathtaking.
 
During the two days I was also able to visit the Kunthaus Zurich, the city’s, and Switzerland’s, outstanding art museum, and much to my pleasure view a very accessible collection that included an enormous water lily painting of Monet’s
 
Also on view were select works of van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, and a surprising number of Edvard Munch paintings, though i could see how his distinctive canvases would appeal to the sober Swiss.
 
And a cultural excursion to Zurich would not be complete without visiting the Fraumunster church and viewing the stunning Chagall windows.
 
But it is now back in L..A., with lots to see and hear, and so little time, and so much traffic.